Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: religion

Freedom of Religion

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“The recent controversy over Article 26 in Iraq has exposed an important problem in the Middle East,” said Tina Ramirez, president and founder of Hardwired, an organization that goes to some of the darkest places in the world in countries like Nepal, Sudan, and Iraq, and provide people on the frontline of religious oppression an understanding of what their rights are so that they can stand up and defend them, for themselves and for others.

“In the Middle East, individuals are not identified by their humanity but by their religion,” she said. “And consequently, they are also divided by their religion.”

Ramirez, who lives in Virginia, flew into Michigan on Thursday, September 29 to visit members of the Chaldean community at the Chaldean Community Foundation (CCF) in Sterling Heights. Along with myself, present at the meeting were Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, and Wendy Acho, director of strategic initiatives at the CCF.

Ramirez is an award-winning humanitarian whose passion for religious freedom began in college while studying at the International Institute for Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, decided in 2013 to start an organization to end religious oppression. Around the world today, 5.3 billion people are living under religious oppression and that number is growing.

“For many refugees from the region who have resettled in the U.S., it will take a while to fully understand that most Americans do not know what religion they are by reading their name or looking at them,” she said. “And they likely will not care.”

She explained that Americans have been heavily influenced by a Protestant worldview that views religion as something that can be changed, challenged, and reformed.  Religion may influence their lives, but it is not an immutable characteristic like race and ethnicity so it would never be placed on a government driver’s license or identity card like it is in the Middle East.

“Its absence does not mean it is not valued,” she said. “But it is valued as an individual choice and not as a means to classify and stratify people.”

Hardwired focuses on specific leaders in the community, which range from advocates and lawyers to media personnel and religious leaders, to make a ripple effect and influence others to embrace the idea of freedom of religion.

“One of the challenges for individuals we work with around the world who identify others by their religion is that they often fail to see the common humanity they share,” she said. “The commonalities are what ensure that each person has the basic rights and freedoms to live according to a particular religion or belief in peace with others, even those with whom they may disagree.”

Earlier this year, Hardwired brought together ten teachers from around the world representing seven different religious communities in the Middle East so they can teach their students in that region about freedom of religion and belief.

“A couple of teachers who joined us were Yezidis from northern Iraq, who themselves had experienced persecution for their beliefs,” said Ramirez.

The two men development an activity where they took a group of displaced students to choose flowers. They told them to pick whichever flowers they wanted but to keep a few yellow flowers. After the students did that, the teachers expressed how the same situation happened to their country when ISIS came and destroyed everyone except the people who believed and looked like them.

This activity enabled the teachers and students to discuss issues about their countries and what vision they had for it. The students had the opportunity to then plant their own garden and to go around and learn as much as possible about one another. Throughout the process, one of the young Yezidi boys, who didn’t like Muslims, shared something with the teacher as they went back to the garden that was replanted with colorful flowers.

He told his teacher, “I didn’t know that other Muslims had suffered the same way we have.”

He had done a project with a Muslim boy learned that they had both been attacked by ISIS.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work to plant the seeds of freedom in that society,” she said, “but it’s worth it and it would make them feel safer in the future.”

There are several ways one can become involved in this program by signing a petition, joining the Hardwired team and becoming an ambassador for freedom, hosting a screening, or investing to the program. To learn more, visit http://www.hardwiredglobal.org/

 

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A World Without Prejudice

A World Without Prejudice

I heard a knock on my door. My daughter assumed it was her uncle and rushed to open it. It was not her uncle but a lovely well-dressed family of a mother, father and their daughter. Jehovah’s Witnesses have come to my door before, and I am never displeased by their presence. Sometimes it is an elderly woman with her grandchild or two sisters or friends, or whomever. But they are always polite and sensitive and I appreciate that they have taken the time to get up early Saturday mornings, dress as if they are going to church, and pass out literature that one can choose to read or not read. Nothing is forced.

Yesterday’s literature especially caught my attention. It was entitled “A World Without Prejudice: When?” and it talked about how discrimination and prejudice is nonexistent in heaven.
“God is not partial,” said the Christian apostle Peter (Acts 10:34,35) having received a divine vision in which he was told: “You stop calling defiled the things God has cleansed.” Or simply created?

Fifty years ago the work of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., caused over 100 countries to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Other global initiatives were adopted in the decades that followed. Yet in 2012, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated “Nevertheless, racism continues to cause suffering for millions of people around the world.”

What’s the answer? Attempts to eliminate prejudice must not merely curb discriminatory acts but also change a person’s thoughts and feelings toward people of another group.

Myself, I’ve always thought that the best way to do this is not just by reading about their issues, but to actually spend time with another group of people, invite them to your home, share a meal, visit their place of worship, ask them questions. We do not have to travel overseas to meet a new people and culture. It’s right here in our neighborhood, waiting to be discovered.